The reason for my slight antagonism towards Chase came from finding in Women Against the Vote that at the beginning of the C20 she was one of the handful of women writers who were anti-suffragist. Having been of my baby-boomers generation, staunchly feminist in inclination, this left me slightly irritable. Added to that, on the infrequent times I have tried to read the few books of hers that are easily obtainable, their archaic style and wordiness and oddities have put me off. It may be a hasty judgement, but as yet I have not been able to take her work too seriously.
However, there is no doubting the moor's influence on Chase. It is at the heart of her best known work Heart of the Moor (1914). In it, Dartmoor is the source of Chase’s interior vision. It is a magnet; it compels; it is her muse. Once she had moved to the folds of the moor, the writer stayed there for the rest of her life, living and breathing its essence and writing a series of Dartmoor inspired books, including Through a Dartmoor Window. 'Moor' became for her an archetypal mother-goddess earth presence, a source of mystical mystery and awe. Given the contemporary fascination with alternative spiritualites and healing perhaps it is surprising that modern readers have tended to view Chase as an eccentric and her books as outmoded. Beneath the sugary, rather archaic surface of her texts, the words still speak of the eternal, ethereal presence of the moor.
Here is a little extract typical of her style; it gives the flavour of Chase's writing and comes from Pages of Peace, which was published in 1920 and can be read online:
This will be a winter book. It is now the heart of the winter, and everyone who visits Dartmoor when she is clothed to her chin in her seal-brown robe of dead heather, loves her more in that guise than in any other. One of the winter joys are the lunches with certain beloved pilgrims at the Old Inn. On the morning when someone is expected, I rush through my mail to be free at noon when they arrive swathed to their eyes in fur. First, there is a delighted run round Venton, a peep into the room of shadow and of sunshine a glimpse through the Dartmoor window at the winter glories of the Moor, the visit to the White Chapel with its love-red Rose Lamp and then we dash away to the Old Inn for the cosiest of meals in the dear little familiar room with its huge log fire and its air of utter peace and seclusion.
Like other people of her generation Chase thought nothing of walking miles and miles, and knew the moor like the back of her hand by the time she wrote Heart of the Moor, in which she mentions a secret experience, a 'vision of white'. which happened to her on 'Bellever Tor, the 'central tor of Dartmoor - the core of the heart of the moor'. She adds that 'Only one who ever reads this book will understand the meaning of this ... and I doubt if even he knows that he alone holds, and always will hold, my heart in the hollow of his hand'.
Another enigma is the whereabouts of Chase's specially named 'Dream Tor', which she mentions several times in Heart of the Moor. There she
'lays full length on the dry turf at the tor's feet listening ... for vibrations of the countless forms of life that she [moor] bears within her', can 'watch for the first swallows' and 'listen for the first cuckoo'. But, she continues,
'The tor's real name is not of course, Dream Tor, or anything like it. I call it that, because it is my favourite home tor: on it I have seen my sublimest visions, dreamt my divinest dreams. It is not marked upon any Ordnance map, thank heaven, and no tourist ever comes near it from year's end to year's end'.
You can find more about the tor, a description and suggested/probably location on the legendary Dartmoor site.
We missed eating at Rugglestone, Chase's favourite pub, but trekked to both Wind Tor (picture above) and Top Tor on our day out exploring her scenic-sites.
However, we did not come up with any definitive solution as to which was the location of her 'dream-site'. What did strike me on this clearest, sunniest and bluest-sky day, was how right Chase was when she said:
'moor round my Dream Tor is clothed in the robe of gold and purple, intermixed with the blue-gray of many boulders and scarlet of whortleberry .... this vividly embroidered foreground against the sombre ... severity of the wine dark distance ... I wonder if there is any land which surpasses Dartmoor for brightness and depths of colour'.